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Senate Education Committee Moves Bill to Help Charter Schools

(JUNEAU) – Senate Bill 235, sponsored by the Senate Education Committee, today was passed out of that committee.  SB 235 will allow the State Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) to compete on behalf of Alaska Charter Schools for national facility maintenance and start-up capital grants available through the U.S. Department of Education.  Currently, Alaskan charter schools are not competitive for those grants.

“With minimal State involvement, but maximized local initiative & control, this bill improves Alaska’s ability to secure federal startup funds for Alaskan charter schools,” said Senator Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee.  “In addition, it will make charter schools eligible to compete for federal grants for facilities.”

“SB 235 has strong support statewide from school boards, school districts, and charter schools,” said Senator Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee.  “It will reduce a major barrier to the development of charter schools.”

SB 235 will remove the statutory cap which limits the number of charter schools, on a statewide basis, to sixty, and creates in statute the programmatically required state funding mechanism necessary to comply under the federal grant program.

SB 235 amends state law to remove the statewide cap of 60 charter schools.  As the only authorizer of charter schools, each local school board thoroughly examines and evaluates charter applications prior to agreeing to accept a charter for its district. In this way, local school boards act as a check on charter school over-proliferation and growth.  Today, there are fewer than 25 charter schools in existence across Alaska – making a state mandated cap unnecessary. 

SB 235 also amends current law by adding language to establish in Alaska the per-pupil facilities aid program required under the U.S. Department of Education’s applicant eligibility requirements.  SB 235 seeds the in-state aid program with a nominal $1 dollar per pupil per year. However, it is communities and school districts which must arrange for themselves the means to provide the 10% local contribution necessary to achieve the 90% federal match.      

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